EuroCALL 2002, Aug. 14-17

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Increasing Our Awareness of Chinese Grammar
Contrastive Analysis Can Help English Learners

Anna Marie Davis, of the Hong Kong University of Science & Technology, recently posted a suggestion on the TESL-L listserv regarding special needs of Chinese-speaking learners of English. Among other ideas, she gave a Web site where Chinese-speakers can improve their English pronunciation using a series of 15-minute mini-lessons. Ms. Davis offers further insights, about writing and grammar, in the following article for ESL MiniConference readers.

When working with Chinese writers of English, teachers who are aware of a few of the grammatical differences between the two languages can help students to trouble shoot grammar hot spots and minimise errors through proof-reading. Grammatical accuracy in English requires much more tweaking than it does in Chinese.

I may, for example, be writing merrily along in the present tense in English and get to the end of the sentence and deposit the time reference ‘last week’ or ‘since 1963’. Now both of these require that I return to my verb and change it to the past simple or the present perfect, respectively. No such problem with Chinese; the time reference tells the reader when the action happened, there is no reason to fuss with the verb.

Subject/verb agreement is another non-issue in Chinese. It does not matter whether Granny Chan talks to my mother or My uncles talk to my mother—the verb is the same.

It is also helpful to be aware of errors that Chinese learners may make with the placement of prepositional phrases in English. In Chinese, the word order of I study at home would be changed to I at home study.

Chinese writers of English will always struggle with articles, as Chinese has no articles. Thus, students should be tutored in the rules governing articles and encouraged to look for potential problems in their writing.

Having students write several drafts of an extended piece of prose, in addition to making them more mature and sophisticated writers, forces them to allocate time and attention to proof reading. Most students, including native speakers, look upon proof reading as optional unless taught to think otherwise. I use small groups to have students provide peer-review on aspects relevant to the particular writing task. A proof reading checklist is part of the peer-review process.

Comment by Anna Marie Davis, Assessment Tutor
Writing and Speaking Through the Curriculum Program

Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

2002 ESL MiniConference Online